Grounding your ethic – Pastoral Backstory – May 11th, 2017


Be sure to scroll down for a special announcement about CtK’s first VBS.

May 11th, 2017


Neil de Grasse Tyson

If you do not know his name you’ve probably seen his face.

Neil de Grasse Tyson is an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. In recent years he’s become a highly public voice for enriching science education in the classroom. He’s also become something of a burr in the saddle of many sci-fi aficionados for the glee he gets in exposing the scientific license taken by filmmakers. (For instance, if light-sabers were really light, they’d just pass through each other. Watch it, Neil.)

But his appetite for confrontation is not limited to shoddy filmmakers. Tyson has taken not a few swipes at those with religious faith. His reboot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos a few years back piled on the disparagement for religion’s alleged hostility toward the scientific enterprise. On that allegation, you might remember our appeal to Derrick Peterson’s research: the purported “warfare” between science and faith, Peterson finds, has been widely exaggerated. But Tyson (and Netflix-buddy Bill Nye) has preferred to swim in that prevailing narrative.

But mine is not to bury Tyson here, but in fact, to praise him–at least a little. In terms of extolling science as the thrilling enterprise it is he may be unequaled. As a winsome and witty spokesman for careful, reasoned consideration (save the above misstep), he has been properly esteemed.

And though unwilling to accept any particular faith tradition, Tyson is at least humble enough about the limits of his own knowledge of the universe to prefer agnosticism to atheism. On that count he parts company with the several academics who find even countenancing transcendent ideas to be intellectual suicide.

But in the excerpt below from a longer interview with Larry King, Tyson lets his commitments to the verifiable and reproducible–i.e. the scientific method–inform his thinking about ultimate questions–including death and the claim of afterlife.

Last week we let an Anglican priest make her case for belief in God, which she grounded in part in her thoughts about death. This week we listen to a scientist make his case for the kind of life he lives, also in view of the death that awaits him. Coupling the fact of his death with his commitment to what can only be empirically verified yields a particular way of life–an ethic, if you will. As you listen, listen for that ethic:

See–winsome, considered, respectful.

We can’t quibble with that abundant empirical evidence that our bodies decompose, nor that as they do they “give back” some measure of what those bodies had received from the earth over the course of life.

We might press him on the question of consciousness following death, and on scientific grounds. But we’d be wading into water way over our heads.

We might also take issue with the premise that the irreconcilability of various faith traditions (that in fact God is Not One) means the appeal to transcendent categories is ultimately futile.

But what about his personal manifesto based on the belief in the finality of death? Would any of us deny that the recognition of our death–a sense that only grows with time and courageous reflection–sharpens our “focus” on our appointed tasks–that the more we grasp how time and energy pass irretrievably we are awoken to the need to apply all diligence? (Have we not of late heard as much from none other than the Preacher of Ecclesiastes?) And would not C.S. Lewis agree that the spectre of death confronts our inattention to love?

As far as manifestos go, you could find much worse.

But does it follow that a belief in a life without end necessarily siphons away the motivations for all those aforementioned commitments? Does a conviction in resurrection imbue a corresponding impulse toward procrastination? For some it might. But you have to go no further than the New Testament to find that paradoxical urgency to steward the limited time we have to love (Jn 11:8-9, Eph 5:15-17, Col 3:17) coupled with abiding hope in a world without end (John 14:1-4, Phil 1:20-22). (Oh, and C.S. Lewis encapsulated that thought, too.)

Everyone has an ethic, whether consciously held or not, whether religious or not.

In the passage this Sunday, as part of our short series on the doctrine of resurrection from 1 Corinthians 15, Paul makes his most explicit comments about what ethic flows from faith in that doctrine. Warm, nebulous feelings about life without end give way to concrete commitments when that belief matures. What form do those commitments take? That’s our burden this Sunday.

How does your belief in resurrection shape your ethical commitments? How would they be different apart from that belief?

We’ve all got a ground–a basis–for our ethics. What would it mean to ground ours in the belief that we won’t be forever in the ground but at some point raised above it?

© Patrick Belote


Meanwhile, summer approaches and with it CtK’s inaugural VBS. We’ve even invited our neighbors from Canterbury and nearby St. Anne Episcopal to join us. Here’s our assistant pastor and VBS coordinator (blessings upon him!) Kevin Gladding with more details:

The school year is ending, and summer break looming. And with summer comes Vacation Bible School. CtK is holding its first VBS here at CES July 17 – July 21, from 9-12. We’ll examine wisdom: what it looks like, where to find it, and how to get it. We invite all of our kids from CtK, ages 6-12, and we encourage them to invite their friends. We’re still in need of volunteers, so if you’d like to help, please contact Kevin Gladding at [email protected]. We also ask that you please be in prayer for this event, that all the details fall into place and God’s name is glorified and all participants edified by this week.


Christ in the Storm, Rembrandt, 1633

It was a wise suggestion by one of you to invite the whole congregation to share an honest thought about where they find it hard to trust that God is in fact Lord. Even if we find ourselves still struggling to believe it, the doctrine of resurrection affirms that trust. Several of you responded to our low-tech way of soliciting responses. We elders have been looking them over and taking them to heart. Since Sunday, others of you may have found something to share. You’re welcome to hand us a 3×5 card this week, or drop one in the offering plate. But you’re also welcome to send us a note electronically.





We’ll land this plane with a brief appeal to another notable figure; you’ve heard from him recently. How does his belief in the “death of death” shape the life he lives?

Author: Patrick

Pastor of Christ the King Church (PCA)

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